Baseball sized hail in Texas? Not so fast my friend.
Social media has made for amazing near real-time updates of severe weather from the field. It is helpful for television meteorologists to share with viewers, for National Weather Service to get ground truth for their warnings and for people like me, who can begin to model damage to areas immediately.
One thing I’ve learned in doing this day in and day out is to be very skeptical. I Reverse Image Search almost everything I see when it comes to something that might inflict damage.
For some things, like tornadoes, there are usually dead giveaways. Tornado picture in January with leaves still on the trees? Obviously not from that day. Tornado picture “in Alabama” and the land is flat with no trees? Obviously not from Alabama.
For me, hail reports are critical. In a non-hurricane year, hail accounts for about 65% of all insurance claims on homes. Hail is a different beast on social media. The reason why it is difficult is that people take pictures of it on the ground or take it back inside the house. You lose contextual clues like the sky, topography, foliage, etc. You have to be very skeptical with hail photos on social media.
Yesterday, a cell dropped some large hail in north Texas. There were many golf ball sized reports, even one report at 2" hail. A few photos of baseball sized hail were circulating on social media yesterday. The first skeptical alarm was the lack of baseball sized hail reports to the NWS, especially in a very weather aware area like Denton, TX that has many spotters.
The first one I saw was a familiar one — because it was from the freak bow-echo/big hailer that screamed across eastern Nebraska in 2014. I’ve seen that one so much that it was obvious to me right away. Even so, I still did a Reverse Image Search to confirm. This came from an account selling hail estimates to contractors, etc. They are looking to drum up business — after all, their name is Overhead and Profit. At least they don’t try to hide their intentions.
The second is a common trait among people who take old hail photos and post it on social media — they really just want to hear their name on local TV. They’ll say it’s theirs and media will take their word for it. If you’re in the media: Please don’t just take their word for it. Here’s why: It can make for pretty TV or website hits, but when people…say in the insurance industry…see it, they will send people out there because baseball sized hail or tons of large makes for massive damage. They want to respond quickly to cover everyone….except there really isn’t damage. Yes, what you show on TV does make people take action more than you realize. Thankfully for my company, I serve as the Senior Director of Detecting Steaming Piles of Weather Lies*. Most companies aren’t that forward thinking.
Here’s Your Solution: Reverse Image Search. There are some great websites where you can see the origins of a picture. If you get no 100% matches, it’s probably legit (or someone is really good at Photoshop). TinEye is probably the most well known.
Me? I like the “so easy a caveman can do it” option. Google’s Chrome browser allows you to right-click an image and it will search for the image’s previous existence on the internet.
You get results like this that will even show you which websites have the image.
It’s not a difficult practice. It’s very easy to do and it will save you from committing embarrassing TV/website moments that you will later have to publicly retract. Each Reverse Image Search usually takes about 10 seconds for me. It’s absolutely worth avoiding sending my company to a place where there ends up being no damage.
*Not an official Title. I’ve tried to no avail.